In the end, the NCAA chose the unsurprising, boring, and ultimately sensible choice: The First Four will be held in Dayton, Ohio, the site of the NCAA tournament play-in -- er, "opening round" -- game for the past 10 years, according to a statement from the NCAA.
When the NCAA announced its limited expansion of the tournament this offseason, many, including yours truly, wondered whether the NCAA would do something radical with the First Four. After all, the concept itself -- combining two No. 16/17 play-in games with two games pitting the tourney's last four at-large seeds -- had the flair of an organization looking to shake things up. The most boring, palatable route would have been to use four play-in games; the most radical scenario would have used the First Four for the last eight at-larges. The NCAA's solution -- already a comedown from the much-derided 96 team idea -- was a compromise, but it wasn't without flair.
Which is why, once the format of those games was determined, it would have been fun to see the NCAA shake things up even more. The best idea would have seen the NCAA set up four historic regional sites -- think Hinkle Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor Stadium, The Palestra, and, say, Allen Fieldhouse, or New Mexico's Pit -- each hosting one game with the NCAA tournament on the line. That would have been an awfully cool setup.
In the end, Ohio State athletic director and 2010-11 NCAA Men's Basketball Committee chairman Gene Smith considered those options, but decided to stay in Dayton thanks to the enthusiasm for the games in the past 10 years.
“Dayton hosted the opening-round game for the past 10 years and consistently attracted extraordinary crowds, including over 11,000 in 2009,” Smith said in a statement. “The enthusiasm the UD staff and the local fans demonstrated for hosting that game did not go unnoticed, so it makes sense to us to conduct the inaugural First Four in Dayton.
“We explored different options, including playing the first-round games at multiple sites, as well as the possibility of playing all games on one day, but we came to the conclusion that Dayton is the best location to host all four games for the 2011 tournament," Smith said.
That's a perfectly reasonable approach. Dayton fans and locals have been tremendous fans of the play-in games, which, let's admit, are not exactly star-studded affairs. If the past 10 years were a test to see how much Dayton loves college hoops, the city has consistently passed. Now it will be rewarded with three more games, two of which are likely to feature big-time bubble teams desperate to escape the opening round and keep their Dance dreams alive. That's a reward Dayton probably deserves.